Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 2 October 2014

Lennon hails Celtic as they find spark

Celtic's Victor Wanyama is challenged by Kevin McHattie of Hearts last night

Celtic 4 Hearts 0: Neil Lennon told his players they have set the standard for the rest of the season with their comprehensive Clydesdale Bank Premier League win over Hearts at Tynecastle.

The champions have stuttered in their journey to the top of the SPL, losing 17 points in comparison to 21 dropped in the whole of last season.

However, they responded to their shock home 1-0 defeat by Inverness at the weekend in fine style with goals from striker Lassad Nouioui and right-back Mikael Lustig before Charlie Mulgrew's cut-back was deflected into his own net by Gorgie midfielder Ryan Stevenson.

Striker Gary Hooper (right) grabbed a fourth late in the game before Parkhead keeper Fraser Forster showed why he has forced his way into the England set-up by saving a late penalty from Hearts skipper Marius Zaliukas.

The Hoops boss said: “They have set the bar and I know they are capable of those performances. I have seen it time and again.

“It was a performance I was looking for, regardless of the result.

“If we had won 1-0 I would have been delighted but to win it so emphatically was so pleasing. It was a great performance. There was a real intensity about them and I got the reaction I was looking for.

“We now have to find a reason why it is not going so well at home.

“Taking one point out of nine at home is not good enough for the talent and quality they have.

“I said to them after the game that I don't want to keep looking for reactions, I want consistency.

“It's not a question of character, I know what I have got here but we have to find our consistency and when we do that we will take some stopping.”

It would have been a more difficult task for the visitors had Forster not turned in another terrific performance, which Lennon acknowledged.

The former Celtic skipper said: “The goalkeeper made three unbelievable saves for us so he is in a good place.

“He has been a huge player in terms of qualification for the Champions League and then as the group has progressed he has grown and grown.

“He has taken his career forward in a big way and I think he is one of the best around now.”

Hearts manager John McGlynn, who revealed Jason Holt and Dylan McGowan picked up injuries which puts them in doubt for Sunday's Scottish Cup tie against Edinburgh rivals Hibernian, was “demoralised” by Forster's performance.

He said: “I can understand why Forster has been put up into the England squad because he made some great saves, that could have turned the game back into our favour.

“He had a great save from a free-kick and Callum Paterson had a free header from another free-kick. He even saved the penalty.

“You get your chances and he pulls off some great saves, so it is very difficult.

“So I think the scoreline was harsh on us.

“I'm led to believe the statistics were a lot closer than the scoreline was. It was 3-0 at half-time but it could have been 2-2.

“Celtic were clinical on the night, they had the same amount of opportunities and had four goals to show for it but we tried to play.”

Forster revealed he had done his homework on Zaliukas.

He said: “I guessed right. We had a look and he missed one hitting it the other way so I just had the feeling that he would go the way he did and I made the save.

“I just did my bit for the team.”

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Hibernian claimed a narrow and controversial 1-0 win at St Johnstone to remain within a point of Celtic at the top of the table.

The hosts had the better of the opening 79 minutes before the game burst into life when Hibs conceded a penalty, which substitute Nigel Hasselbaink saw saved by goalkeeper Ben Williams.

Saints boss Steve Lomas, the former Northern Ireland skipper, was sent to the stand by referee Craig Thomson soon afterwards and Paul Cairney added to his misery by netting what proved to be the winner with eight minutes remaining.

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